I attended a trip to Costa Rica through both Buck-I-SERV and the Outdoor Adventure Center. On this trip, we hiked, rappelled down a waterfall, went spelunking, white water rafted, surfed, and obviously completed community service. For the service portion of the trip, we built bathrooms for a community building and stayed with the families in that community.
This trip was an incredible learning experience, more so than I could have imagined. I learned a lot about myself, Costa Rica and the people there, and the other trip participants as well. I spent this entire trip without my cell phone, which is a rare occurrence in this era. Not having my phone for ten days was so fulfilling – I felt present on this trip and really took it all in. Cell phones divide your attention, and without that problem, I got the most out of my experience on this trip. I did not worry about keeping up with social media or what my friends and family at home were doing on a daily basis, and it was really cleansing. I lived in the moment on this trip, and it was so much easier to be detached from my phone than I thought. Also, I think I became more daring and adventurous along the way. I did not know very much about Costa Rica going into this, but I learned so much more than I ever thought I would from a trip like this one. We learned about the recent hurricane that swept through Costa Rica and caused a lot of destruction, from mud slides to river flooding to a crashed helicopter; we learned about the different flora and fauna of Costa Rica and which plants were edible or had other purposes; we learned how the people in rural Costa Rica live and are mostly self-sufficient; we learned what the basic diet for the people there is; and we learned how close their communities are. In regard to the trip participants, the group comprised of all girls, not including our two trip leaders. I never imagined I would have such a good time with a group of 14 girls, but we all meshed so well on this trip and I learned a lot about each and every one of them. There was no drama, just a lot of laughing and bonding and learning together.
All this enlightenment opened up my eyes to many things. First, there is a lot more going on in the world than is covered by U.S. media – I had never even heard about this hurricane that swept through Costa Rica or the devastation it caused. It ruined roads, it killed people, it destroyed homes. We saw first-hand some of the destruction caused by this tropical storm, and it really made me think about how I do not know much, if anything, about world news and that I need to pay more attention to what is going on around me. On a more positive note, throughout the trip we learned about the native plants and animals in Costa Rica, which I did not expect to be a part of this experience. There are many plants in the rainforest that are edible and have useful qualities, which I never would have thought about while walking through the rainforest, let alone at a park at home. While I now know about edible and useful plants in Costa Rica, this encouraged me to start learning about the native flora in Ohio and which plants can be eaten or used for something. It was also so eye-opening to learn about the rural Costa Rica lifestyle – how the families are so close, so self-sufficient, and so kind. I loved the sense of community here, everyone waved to each other in passing or knew each other, which is a fresh experience compared to big city vibes in Columbus, where people aren’t always so friendly and everyone is in a rush to get to the next place. In turn, I realized that I actively partake in this lack of community around campus, and that I should try and reflect in my own life at home this sense of community in Costa Rica. Finally, I was much more outgoing on this trip than I am in my regular daily life. Jelling with this group of girls really brought out a worry-free, social side of me that I did not know I was capable of. I could not imagine a better group with whom to experience this trip.
Our guides from Autentico Adventures, Manos and Abraham, made this trip exponentially more fun and educational. I truly believe that, had they not been there, this trip would not have been nearly as great. Our group really connected with this pair of brothers, and by the end of the trip I wished they were coming home with us; they were a part of the group now. These two brightened the mood when we were discouraged and maintained good vibes the entire trip. They told us about their lives, showed us all the plants and wildlife along our trip, and made us part of the community at every homestay. They pointed out and told us about the hurricane damage, showed us the self-sufficient lifestyle, and obviously gave us the high-adventure experience, too. I will never forget all the times Manos came up behind me and barked like a chihuahua and scared the living daylights out of me; or when Abraham kicked a boulder down the side of the mountain, and without even turning around Manos yells, “No Abraham, come back!”; or when Manos got way ahead of us on a hike then waited in a tree to scare us; or when they completely owned us playing soccer with the community; or when Manos commanded his raft to ambush ours and pulled us all out of our raft; or when we met their family and got to know them. When we stayed at their parents’ home, they taught us how they process sugar cane and make it into solid blocks of sugar that they keep to use in juices and cooking. They also taught us how they make tortillas and we experienced having to kill one of their chickens for dinner. While the chicken experience was upsetting, it is necessary for their self-sufficiency – they can’t just run to the grocery store and buy some chicken. Their grocery stores are nowhere near their homes and they have to hike to get there.
I stepped way out of my comfort zone on this trip with all of the adventure we partook in: I hiked harder than I knew I was capable of, I went spelunking in a cave despite my discomfort with tight spaces, I rappelled down a 90-foot waterfall even though I am not keen on heights, I white-water rafted, I surfed, I woke up when the sun rose and went to sleep when it set. These were new experiences I never imagined I would have, and it really opened me up to new things. It also entailed that I needed to be super hydrated in order to keep up with all of the activity, which I am not good about at home. I now drink a lot more water every day than I used to. Our trip leaders really advocated self-care on this trip. It also immensely helped to get through these new experiences with the other girls on the trip. We all supported each other and found humor in everything.
Moreover, the service we completed was hard manual labor, and it was a great experience. Mixing concrete with a shovel taught me I am much stronger than I thought, but that I could also probably lift some weights in my free time. I hauled sand bags, shoveled stones, plastered a wall, mixed concrete, and swept, and it was all a lot more strenuous than I expected. But I did it, and while I may not have done it as fast as the men in the community we worked alongside, I like to think I did a good job. I felt very productive, and staying with the families in the community added to the experience. Erica and I stayed with Mario and his parents, and we had a great time with them. Mario is a river guide for Autentico Adventures, so he does the white-water rafting. He is our age, so we became friends with him really fast and played cards with him every night we stayed there. We are even friends on Facebook and Snapchat now, so we keep in touch and I love it! Getting to know the community in which we completed our service made our time there so much more valuable, and playing soccer with the whole community after a day of work was so much fun. This allowed us to get to know more people than just the families we stayed with. While the adventure portion of the trip was very fun, the service portion was just as great.
This service trip was so valuable to me. Everything I learned about myself can be reflected in my life here in Ohio, too. I want to be more connected to the OSU community after seeing the welcoming sense of community in Costa Rica. I want to take advantage of all the opportunities here to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. I want to learn more about the native plants here and be more knowledgeable of my home state of Ohio. I want to be more globally aware of current events. I want to stay friends with all the wonderful people I met on this trip. I want to give back more to my community, as well as continue attending Buck-I-SERV trips. I am less attached to my cell phone. I also already am studying zoology and want to work in conservation in the future, but this trip strengthened my desire to work in conservation after seeing all the beautiful wildlife there and knowing that it is so valuable to the ecosystems. After this trip, I would really like to go on another international service trip and hope to continue service throughout the rest of my life. This Buck-I-SERV and OAC trip to Costa Rica was truly a transformational experience, and I wish I could live it over again.
Shoveling dirt at our service site
OHIO on our hike (spot the other OHIO in the background)
Juicing sugar cane at one of the homestays